Lofgren calls for sweeping NSA, email privacy reforms

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Cailf.) repeated calls for sweeping privacy reforms to address both National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance and digital privacy from law enforcement agencies.

Congress has to examine “whether the fourth amendment really is available to modern Americans in a digital age,” Lofgren said Wednesday, speaking at a Computer and Communications Industry Association event.

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Lofgren pushed for sweeping reforms to controversial NSA surveillance programs — which collect information about phone calls and electronic communications of U.S. persons — which were first revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year.

Last month, President Obama outlined reforms to the phone data surveillance program that involve having phone companies, rather than the NSA, store the data. Under his plan, NSA analysts would have to get court approval before accessing the databases.

“What the President wants to do is not far enough,” Lofgren said Wednesday.

She pointed to last year’s defense funding amendment from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would have put limits on the sweeping surveillance programs but fell seven votes short of passing.

“If that were up again, I think it would pass … big time,” Lofgren said. “I think that there is a lot of enthusiasm about doing something about this”

Lofgren, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, pushed back on statements from intelligence officials that members of Congress have had opportunities to learn about the controversial surveillance programs.

“The Judiciary Committee has primary jurisdiction over the Patriot Act” — which authorizes some of the controversial surveillance programs — “and we have very minimal briefing opportunities,” she said.

“If you get a yearly report on something, and it’s less than one page, how meaningful can it be?”

Lofgren also called for broad reforms to digital privacy laws governing law enforcement access to electronic communications.

Under the 1986 Electronic Privacy Communications Act (ECPA), law enforcement officials do not need a warrant to access electronic communications that are more than 180 days old.

“If we don’t deal with ECPA, then the NSA reforms will not be sufficient,” she said Wednesday.

Along with other Judiciary Committee members, Lofgren introduced a bill last year that would require law enforcement officials to get a warrant before accessing electronic communications or geolocation data. 

Another House bill from Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kans.), Tom Graves (R-Ga.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) would require a warrant for electronic communications but does not change geolocation data access.

On Wednesday, Lofgren said that digital privacy reform should address location information.

“The email protection is fine, but the geolocation should be included,” she said.

“The half measure is better than no measure, but if we’re going to do it, why don’t we do it all the way.”